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Abandoning the God Who Uses

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by Linda Rex

Occasionally I will be talking with someone and they will use the expression, “I just want God to use me.” Over the years, this expression has really started to bother me. A while back I remember responding to someone who said they would like the church to feel free to use them by saying, “I don’t want to use you, but I would be happy to include you.” This, I believe, would be God’s response to us.

Lately, that expression, “I want God to use me” has begun to pop up over and over. In fact, at our weekly discussion group this topic came up. We’d been talking about having healthy boundaries with one another and how people with boundary issues either use other people, or allow themselves to constantly be used.

And I had a conversation this week with my daughter about this very thing. She and I had concluded, why would anyone want to have a relationship with a God who uses them? Why in the world would anyone want to give their heart and life to someone who would only use them? Yet we use this type of language about God and his church.

The reason this bothers me so much, I believe, is God is not a God who uses people. He may work with people or through people, but he does not “use” people like someone would use a tool or instrument—as a lifeless object or thing, rather than a living, breathing being with its own personhood and value. God is so protective of our personhood and our being. He has not created robots—he has created beings with their own will and with the freedom to make independent decisions.

Now, granted, God has a way of working through people to accomplish his will. It is arrogant of us as humans to think we live apart from God’s constant intervention in and direction of our cosmos and our personal lives. But he does it in such a way he values us as creatures, not using us merely as lifeless tools.

Yes, the pharoah in Moses’ day was a “vessel for wrath”, but not because God used him so much as God worked with his human proclivity to rebel, control, and destroy. Just as the pharoah was free to make his own choices, so God is free to do with us as he pleases—but what God does with us is always rooted in his love and grace, and in his desire to have all humanity share in his life, his purposes and his plans. (Romans 9:17–18)

God has been working out a plan in our world since before time began. But the accomplishment of that plan required at one point that Jesus be crucified. Isn’t it interesting Jesus included Judas Iscariot in his calling the disciples into relationship with himself? Why would Jesus include someone whom he knew would betray him? He did not use Judas Iscariot, but he certainly included him in his plan, and allowed him to play a critical and necessary, though negative part.

I am reminded of Jesus’ conversation with his disciples where he told them, “I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.” (John 15:15 NLT) There is a difference between a slave whom you order around and use, and a friend whom you confide in and share your desires, hopes and dreams with. God chooses to share his heart and his life with us—we see this in the gift of his Son and his Spirit. And he does this even at risk of us rejecting him, betraying him, and hating him.

God invites us into deeper relationship with him all the time. He draws us up into his life through the gift of his Son Jesus and by the gift of his Spirit. He says to us, “Come see what I am doing—you can be a part of it. This is my kingdom life. Let’s live in it together in love, joy and peace.”

For someone who has spent much of their childhood, or even their adult life, being used and abused by other people, especially those who should have cared for and protected them, this invitation to relationship is refreshing, though scary. Being used they understand—that is a simple concept. But being called into relationship? That is a whole other concept.

Being called into relationship means not only owning our own stuff and being responsible for what is ours, but also refusing to own what belongs to another and allowing them to carry their own load. Being called into relationship means taking risks and allowing someone else the power to do something we would not choose to do. It means getting out of our heads and into our hearts—being willing to be rejected, abandoned and hurt for the sake of truly loving and serving another person. But this is what God did in Christ, and what he does for us all the time.

I’ve been reading Wm. Paul Young’s latest book, Lies We Believe About God and just this morning started to read Chapter 6—“God Wants to Use Me”. He writes this:

“…for people who come from sexual-abuse history, the last thing in the world we want is to be “used” by anyone, even by God!

  God is a relational being: that is who God is. The language of God is about partnering, cocreating, and participating; it’s about an invitation to dance and play and work and grow.”

If we pay attention, we recognize the difference in our interactions with others between being used and being loved. One is healthy—the other is extremely unhealthy.

As Wm. Paul Young goes on to say, healthy, loving parents would never apply this type of language in conversation about their own children. I could never imagine saying to my daughter, “Just let me use you in this.” It’s just not a sound-minded way of interacting with another human being. So why do we think God interacts with us in this way?

Maybe this is just a matter of semantics. But I really do believe for some of us, it is a reflection of what we in our heart of hearts believe about God, and it needs to be changed. May God open our eyes and hearts to see and know him as the God he really is—the relational God of love— who through Jesus our Lord and by his Spirit invites us into an everlasting relationship of grace and love.

Abba, forgive us for projecting onto you our unhealthy ways of thinking, believing and acting. You are not the Person we so often make you out to be. Transform our hearts by faith. Heal our minds and our thoughts. Bring us into the truth you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus. Fill us, Holy Spirit, with a clear vision and deep understanding of the real relationship of grace and love we are included in through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.” John 15:12–16 NASB

“Is It Love or Is It Magic?”

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Fall in Arkansas
Fall in Arkansas

by Linda Rex

I was watching an old classic TV series recently called “Nanny and the Professor.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with this show, it is about a nanny who helps a professor care for his three children. She has a Mary Poppins-type knack for knowing exactly what is needed in every situation. She always seems to know who’s at the door before they knock or who’s on the phone before it rings. At the beginning of each show, we hear the question being asked about all the amazing things Phoebe Figalilly does: “Is it Love or is It Magic?” And it is left up to the audience to decide.

I think sometimes that the current interest in all types of spirituality blurs the lines for us between what is magic and what is love. Whether we like it or not, our view of God and spirituality is influenced by our culture and all that we see and hear in the media. What we believe about love and being loving is also affected.

The apostle John wrote: “God is love.” That, I believe, is a true statement. But what does it mean?

Does “God is love” mean that love is God? No. Love is a relational property, something expressed. Love in itself is not a being. God is a being, who is Father, Son, and Spirit, who lives in love—love describes his being. It describes how he lives in mutual submission, caring and oneness—in perichoresis.

So if God is love, does that mean that God has to always do nice things for us? I mean, if God is love, how come there are so many nasty things going on in the world—so many hurt people, ruined lives—so much rampant evil? How can God be love and let that happen?

Well, no, God isn’t Phoebe Figalilly who’s going to make everything wonderful for us all the time. And he’s not obligated to do that, even if he is love. Love doesn’t equate automatically with being nice all the time.

And love doesn’t equate with God giving us what we want all the time. That’s a magical God that we can control and use. Magic is something we use to try to manipulate spiritual realities.

But God doesn’t work that way. God is completely free to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, however he wants. He’s totally free, but he’s also totally love. And he loves us enough that he does not allow us to control, manipulate or use him. He does, rather, allow us to influence him as a child may influence a parent to say yes to his request for a new puppy.

God teaches us, through Jesus, that real love is serving, sacrificial and never works in opposition to what is right, pure, holy and true. Real love is relational in a heavenly way. Real love calls out the best in people—raising them up to be all that God intended them to be when he created them in the first place—a true reflection of himself. Sometimes this means saying “No” or putting boundaries in a relationship. Sometimes real love hurts, causing or experiencing suffering, in order to help and heal.

Much of the evil and suffering we see and experience is the result of our own choices and our own stubborn willfulness. We inflict it on one another, even sometimes without realizing we are doing it. Sometimes love allows people to feel the full impact of the consequence of their choices—not to hurt them, but to motivate them to repent and change. God does this with us.

I think there is a huge difference between magic and love, one that God demonstrates to us through his Son Jesus Christ. Real love can be seen and experienced in a personal relationship with God in Christ by the Spirit. Real love can be seen and experienced as we reflect God in Christ by the Spirit in our relationships with one another.

But God isn’t interested in our magic incantations, our self-help programs, or worship rituals that we use to try to somehow get God to do what we want—to try to fix problems or heal people. God can do that all by himself and often does do that without any of our help. He likes to include us in his miracles—but only as participants, not as magicians. It’s not about magic—it’s all about love.

“Holy God, forgive us, please, for all the times and ways in which we try to manipulate, control and use you. Forgive us for seeing you as something to fix things with rather than as a person to relate to in love. Thank you that your great love goes beyond anything we can ask or imagine, and that you have our best interests at heart all the time. Perfect us in your holy love in Jesus. In your name, Father, Son and Spirit—you who alone are God. Amen.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jn 13:34–35